China – Electric bicycles are fast becoming the transport of choice among China’s population. Last year, the Chinese bought 21 million e-bikes, compared with 9.4 million cars. While China now has about 25 million cars on the road, it has four times as many e-bikes.
This is because the Chinese government has long encouraged its people to ride ebikes, and because riding regular bikes has long been the mode of transportation in rural areas anyway.
As engineers around the world work to create eco-friendly, plug-in electric cars, Chinese engineers are leading the field.
Government regulations in China limit the top speed of e-bikes to about 12 mph. However, manufacturers are building more powerful machines all the time, with speed regulators that are easily removed.
E-bikes that are basically pedal-powered machines with an electric boost are common in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but e-scooters with heavier motors and top speeds of around 30 mph, fast enough to rival mopeds, are growing in popularity.
The e-bike boom owes much to Chinese policy. The government made developing e-bikes an official technology goal in 1991. Major Chinese cities have extensive bicycle lanes, which means riders can avoid the worst of rush-hour congestion. Because local governments have drastically raised licensing fees on gas-powered scooters in recent years, In cities such as Shanghai, , consumers have had no choice but to purchase an e-bike instead.
In 2006, China had 2,700 licensed ebike manufacturers, with countless additional smaller shops. Leading manufacturer Xinri (the name means “new day”) was founded in 1999 by Zhang Chongshun, an auto parts factory executive who recognized the potential of the field. In its first year Xinri built less than 1,000 bikes; last year it churned out 1.6 million.
E-bikes are commonly used by migrant laborers. Police stations have blue and white patrol e-bikes. Delivery workers from McDonald’s and KFC also use them.
In 2008, the Chinese bought about 90% of the 23 million e-bikes sold worldwide.
E-bikes are steadily taking off around the world. In India, rising incomes mean personal transportation is more affordable for the masses. Japan has seen steady annual sales of about 300,000 for several years, and in the “cycle-crazy” Netherlands e-bikes are beginning to take off. In the U.S., where bikes are still used for recreation rather than transportation, e-bike sales were expected to break 200,000 in 2009. That’s about 1% of China’s sales.
At the end of 2012, the sale of ebikes in China was estimated to reach 28 million e-bikes — still the majority of all sales of ebikes around the world.
The New York times interviewed Li Ang, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace in Beijing (in an article published on June 27, 2012). “Although electric bikes do avoid quite a lot of gasoline usage, such bikes in China have pros and cons. They can hardly be labeled as a typical ‘green’ means of transportation.”
Safety is another challenge in China, with e-bikes zipping down sidewalks, sometimes with multiple riders. Lead-acid batteries are not adequately recycled, creating an environmental problem, and a proliferation of small e-bike makers in China makes crafting effective safety rules a challenge.
One factor affecting price is battery type. Many (though not all) electric bikes sold in Europe and the United States have lithium-ion batteries, which are more energy-dense and costlier than the lead-acid type predominant in China.